Category Archives: Strategic Outlook


More Nukes Doesn’t Always Mean Better Deterrence

In a short article recently published by The National Interest, Xunchao Zhang argues that blockade is an effective means for the U.S. Navy to conduct a war against China because of its reliance on oil imports and then proposes that China has two options for countering a blockade strategy: vulnerability-reducing and conflict-avoiding. He dismisses the first because the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) does not have the capacity to escort oil tanker convoys half-way round the world and China’s overland pipelines would be vulnerable to US strikes. Zhang therefore argues that a policy of avoiding conflict with the United States entirely is the only means for China to counteract a US blockade strategy. Key to this, he claims, is strengthening the Chinese nuclear deterrent and renouncing the No-First-Use policy. Only then will the Chinese nuclear deterrent be sufficient to prevent conflict with the United States and avoid a blockade which would likely be crippling. But this argument misses a fundamental point about deterrence and any US use of blockade in a war with China.

Jugular of the economy

Deterrence is about avoiding war. Zhang argues that by strengthening the Chinese nuclear arsenal, the likelihood of war with the United States would decrease, thereby countering the threat of an American blockade. However, the United States is already unlikely to initiate a war, for numerous reasons. What Zhang calls China’s “minimal nuclear deterrent”, the possible world economic consequences, lack of domestic support for such an endeavor, and the historical unwillingness of the United States to be seen as the aggressor all combine to deter the US from attacking China. Any U.S.-China war would be initiated by China, and therefore a strengthening in the Chinese nuclear arsenal, to include abandoning No-First-Use, does not make a compelling case that the likelihood of war with the United States would be decreased. At best it would have no effect, and at worst it would put the Chinese leadership in a position where a stronger nuclear deterrent could simply increase the attractiveness of conducting a conventional war beneath the nuclear umbrella.

 Furthermore, if a conflict-avoiding policy fails, an expanded nuclear arsenal would be useless in stopping the United States from imposing a blockade. Nuclear deterrence operates even in the context of war. It is unlikely that China would turn their nuclear weapons against the United States when under even a crippling blockade because the United States could respond overwhelmingly. A severe economic decline would be difficult to face, but nuclear weapons raining down on Beijing and Shanghai are on an entirely different plane. The incentive to not escalate to the point of nuclear warfare would be significant, and both sides understand this. The United States would have free reign to conduct the blockade without concern of nuclear escalation because of mutual deterrence.

Recent events support this view. In the context of the Ukraine Crisis, the United States has leveraged sanctions against Russia, which has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, without fear of escalation. Another one or 10,000 Russian nuclear weapons would not change the fact that economic disruption is very different from physical destruction. If the possible effects of a blockade are as serious as Zhang argues, a strengthened nuclear deterrent is not the way to counter it.

Zhang is correct, however, to argue that China’s best way to counteract a potential blockade by the U.S. Navy is to avoid war entirely. Oil pipelines from Russia and Kazakhstan are highly vulnerable. Hitting fixed targets with precision weapons is a skill the United States military has very nearly perfected, with strikes this summer in Syria from carrier-based aircraft and Tomahawk-toting surface ships again proving the point. He also correctly assesses the PLA Navy as insufficient to protect its maritime trade routes. It has no experience conducting convoy operations and has limited, if slowly improving, antisubmarine warfare capabilities. Despite the effort expended to deploy a task force off Somalia, China does not have the capacity to support the number and array of forces necessary to defend its trade routes.

Not your grandpa’s U-Boot

Furthermore, the geography of East Asia contains numerous maritime chokepoints, U.S. submarines are fast, quiet, and have incredible endurance, the U.S. surface fleet has decades of experience conducting maritime interdiction in some of the same waters it would blockade, and the United States has the ability to intercept maritime traffic far outside the range of PLAN capabilities, interdicting oil tankers at their source in the Persian Gulf. While Air-Sea battle in the face of A2/AD capabilities requires the development of any number of new weapons systems, the U.S. Navy has the capacity now and for the foreseeable future to cripple the Chinese economy in the event of war, at ranges far outside those of any existing or upcoming A2/AD capabilities. There is no simple panacea for China to overcome the threat of blockade in the event of war, but Zhang does get it right when he says that China’s best option is to avoid conflict entirely.


Ian Sundstrom is a surface warfare officer in the United States Navy and holds a master’s degree in War Studies from King’s College London. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent those of the United States Department of Defense.


Future War Fiction Week 30 Dec – 3 Jan: Call for Articles

For New Years, looking into the future through fiction.

Heinlein, Heller, Macdonald Fraser, Clancy, Haldeman, Drake. The list could go on of great military, science, and strategic fiction. Some of those authors had foresight that now takes on the patina of genius, other had an ability to better convey the emotional history of a moment than those that lived it- all of them raised the collective ability of military thinkers and strategists by leaps and bounds. Whether they inspired you to become an officer, or helped you to understand your experience at war, all  of them gave us  part of our intellectual kit.

Johnson Ting: Oct 24, 2014
Johnson Ting: Oct 24, 2014

In the spirit of those great minds, CIMSEC is hosting a Military Fiction week. Maybe you want to write something forward looking that hopes avoid future tragedy or ensure yet to be won victory. Perhaps you seeks to better describe the what if counterfactuals which could have led to a different world. Either way, fiction provides a wider canvas for strategists to paint their minds onto. The only criteria is that you write an original piece of military fiction, it can be historical or futuristic, that seeks to provide other strategic and security thinkers better context of the problems we did, do, or may face.  Short stories of 1000-5000 words are what we are seeking but, who knows, if something turns out to be gold we can turn it into the next Flashman series.

Read, Think, Write- just this time make sure you pull the stories from inside your head.

SEND ARTICLES TO: nextwar(at)
Length: 1000-5000 words, unless you can reasonably justify otherwise.
Due Date: December 26th

Look to the Brits for the Keys to a Successful Offset Strategy

A Geographic Rebalance, Technology, and Diplomacy Must Be Used Together

The challenges of the 2nd decade of the 21st century call for another phase in “strategic asymmetry” in order to preserve the security of the United States’ global strategic interests. The two versions of the successful Cold War Containment strategy; the “New Look” and “Flexible Response” appear on the surface to be completely different approaches. The first advocated reliance on the threat of nuclear war to deter aggressive action by the Soviet Union. The second advanced a graduated series of steps to meet the global Communist threat of which nuclear war was one component and precision-guided munitions one supporting pillar. Both however were committed to deterring nuclear war, maintaining global U.S. strategic interests, and preventing the further spread of the Communist ideology. Each too was relatively well-endowed with financial support from a U.S. government that stood at the military, political, and economic apex of a world otherwise devastated by the effects of two massive global conflicts and associated revolutions and chaos.

Unlike the Cold War period, the present United States cannot exercise the same dominance in all three disciplines of global power. The nation is in a period of relative decline. Many Eurasian nations have recovered from the effects of the conflicts of the 20th century and have assumed positions of global economic, political and in some cases military power. It is a situation similar to the situation challenging the last great liberal democratic power at the dawn of the 20th century.

British Empire 1903

The present U.S. situation is very similar to that of Great Britain at the end of the 19th century. The British faced many challenges to their economic and maritime supremacy. France recovered from multiple Napoleonic disasters and built a rival colonial empire; Japan emerged from centuries of isolation to compete for dominance of the Western Pacific; Germany and Russia tried to develop “webbed feet” and associated maritime ambitions; and the United States turned its energies from “winning the west” to winning the game of global economic competition. Furthermore, the “moral authority” the British had enjoyed relative to much of the rest of the world had been sullied to a degree by atrocities committed by British forces during the 1899-1901 Boer War against Dutch settlers in South Africa. That conflict also had significant financial costs that competed against those of the Royal Navy (RN), the British nation’s traditional strategic guardian, as well as those of a rising welfare state.

The United States confronts a similar scenario. Its traditional Eurasian allies have recovered from the effects of World War II and the Cold War and are now sometimes economic and political rivals. The Russian state born from the wreckage of the Soviet Union now maneuvers to regain lost territory and advantage. China has emerged as the principal U.S. economic competitor and also has maritime ambitions. The moral authority of the United States is now in question, like post-Boer War Britain, after questionable counter-insurgency conflicts in Southwest Asia and a global internet monitoring effort conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). The wars of the last decade drew money away from efforts to maintain and improve U.S. naval and air forces. The U.S. military also competes with an expanding U.S. welfare state.

The British Grand Fleet

The British solution to their own period of relative decline (well detailed in Aaron Freidberg’s book The Weary Titan) is best described in three steps. British statesmen and military leaders first examined the strategic geography of the British Empire in detail and made a frank assessment of the relative importance of its physical, economic, political, and military components. They conducted a global reduction and re-balance of British naval and military assets that reflected the updated strategic geographic assessment and their own financial limitations. Finally, the British sought accords (both official and unspoken) with a number of nations to implement the new strategic geography. They came to agreements with the French and the Russians on a series of long-simmering colonial competitions, and they signed an alliance with the Japanese in order to secure their Pacific trade lines and possessions. They also accepted the peaceful rise of the United States, a “daughter” liberal democratic power, to its eventual position of leading economic power by 1914 to buttress their own economic system. The end product was a British Empire and associated armed forces better prepared to confront the changing and more volatile 20th century. Britain survived two devastating world wars and although much of its physical empire and supporting military and naval forces declined, that change was demanded and conducted by the British public under far better circumstances than would have occurred in the wake of a military defeat.

There are of course significant risks involved in such a radical re-balancing of forces. Britain’s physical retreat from the Americas and the Pacific in the face of rising American and Japanese power likely pushed the dominions of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand away from direct British influence. British leaders in the late 1920’s, allowed the strength of the British armed forces, especially the Royal Navy to significantly degrade to the point that Britain could no longer provide an effective defense of its Asian possessions. The loss of Singapore and the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse was the culmination of 25 years of poor strategic planning. It also wrecked British prestige and was a significant tipping point in the drive for Indian independence and the end of the physical British Empire.

The United States should undertake a similar realistic assessment of its global strategic position. Such a review would include not only land and maritime physical spaces, but also air, space and cyberspace “geography” which equally impact U.S. interests. This review must not be confined to mere budgetary and defense program appraisal, but must carefully examine the nation’s long-term interests. It must determine the most significant threats to the republic, and re-balance naval and military forces within budgetary limits to better confront those perils. Those forces must be both suitable for the geographic areas they defend, highly mobile and able to operationally and strategically re-position as circumstances dictate. While the present threat from both national and non-state actors is complex, some positive changes have taken place in recent years. For the first time since 1942, the United States does not face the threat of an immediate ground war other than on the Korean peninsula. The United States however cannot execute overly draconian cuts and still expect to exercise significant global influence. Some balance must be struck between the needs of the expanding U.S. welfare state, and the military forces that guard its very existence.

Finally, the United States should seek solutions to disagreements with nations and/or non-state actors whose intents and actions do not directly threaten U.S. global interest. The United States should also seek close association with present and rising states that share similar interests, since there is no “heir apparent” waiting to support and perhaps supersede the United States in its role as the defender of traditional liberal values as it was for Great Britain. One potential liberal democratic understudy is India, but other candidates may emerge. Although a rising power with aspirations toward greatness, China cannot be considered as a candidate to replace the United States as guarantor and support of the liberal capitalist system that sustains the global economy. Although perhaps no longer a full-fledged communist nation, China remains an authoritarian corporate state that continues to stifle free speech and expression. China, despite a generally warm welcome in the world economic community has instead chosen to bully its economic partners by needlessly antagonizing its neighbors and contributing to rising instability in East Asia.

US Surface Combatants At Sea

Like Great Britain, the United States can confront challenges to its global interests through an aggressive self-assessment of its strategic goals and means to which they can be accomplished. Unmanned systems, organized in support of traditional manned combat formations in a “Manned and Unmanned” battle concept, offer the United States and Western powers an offensive edge against robust Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) systems. Unmanned systems, however, represent only one component of a greater post-Post Cold War U.S. grand strategy. A technological “offset” alone is insufficient given the expanding threat level that presently confronts U.S. decision-makers. Technological solutions will likely come from civilian industrial sources and be readily duplicated by potential adversaries. Framing the concept of a future grand strategy through unmanned systems, geographic military rebalance, prioritization of threats and movement to accommodate non-threatening, but distracting disputes with others represent the conditions for a successful response to the emerging strategic environment. The United States can still field a capable military force with global reach for a reasonable cost by undertaking such a broad strategic review.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. He posts here at CIMSEC, and at under the pen name of “Lazarus”.


Members’ Roundup Part 4

This week, we are fortunate to have a variety of writers and topics to share with the CIMSEC community. Ranging from the crisis in Ukraine to nuclear deterrence, the works that CIMSEC members have produced will provide sufficient ‘food for thought’ leading into the weekend.

David Wise, a CIMSEC-ian based out of Annapolis, Maryland, recently had an article published through John Hopkins University that details ‘the writing on the wall’ regarding the situation in Ukraine. He calls for a renewed public diplomacy effort to expose the belligerents and there is, indeed, an imperative for this. In David’s words: “if the international system that has produced the longest era of peace between major powers and by far the greatest prosperity in human history is not worth defending, then nothing is.” 

Furthermore, David presents his musings of American involvement in Libya over at the Small Wars Journal. More specifically, David argues that there are four reasons as to why it is hard to argue against President Obama’s self-assessment that his greatest foreign policy error was made in Libya.

New Delhi-based CIMSEC-ian, Darshana M. Baruah, suggests that recent developments under the Modi Government will see India playing a much bigger role in reshaping the security architecture in the South China Sea. In a report for RSIS, Darshana argues that India has an opportunity to fill a leadership role in providing security in the region. This will certainly go hand-in-hand with New Delhi’s interests in Asia.

Bringing the debate back to topics of grand strategy, CIMSEC-ian Zachary Keck, from The Diplomat, provides some brief thoughts on the third ‘Offset Strategy‘. The policy was officially announced by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Reagan National Defense Forum, almost two weeks ago and is aimed at perpetuating America’s military superiority.

Adm. James Stavridis continues to feature in this series with an op-ed featured on, and co-authored with Matthew Daniels. The piece, titled ‘Soft Power: The Vaccine Against Oppression’, builds upon the Admiral’s efforts in advocating open-source security.

Finally, we are fortunate to have access to high-level experts here at CIMSEC. Admiral John C. Harvey, USN (retd.), emailed me to give CIMSEC members his personal assessments from his time co-chairing the Independent Review of the Nuclear Enterprise, which was ordered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel earlier this year. Admiral Harvey shares with us some of his personal lessons:

1) If you have nuclear weapons, you need to devote a great deal of high-level attention to their maintenance and sustainment as well as the maintenance and sustainment of the people and platforms that would deliver those weapons should the President so direct.

2) It was obvious to me that we haven’t been able to establish the right organizational construct within DoD since the late 90s that would consistently and effectively accomplish #1 above.

3) We can debate the efficacy of nuclear weapons all we want – the utility or futility of deploying nuclear weapons, whether or not we should deploy a monad, a diad or a triad of nuclear delivery systems, or whether conventional deterrence of some kind can ever replace our current posture relying fundamentally on nuclear deterrence, but, and it’s a big but, as long as we have nuclear weapons – like them or not – we’ve got to invest the required resources in their care and feeding and the care and feeding of the people who maintain the warheads, the missiles, and the delivery systems. 

There is no middle ground here, no ability to rely upon some sort of an elegant and systematic degradation that can be monitored and managed with timely intervention before either lasting damage or an untoward event occurs. 

If you are interested in further exploring this topic, Admiral Harvey has provided the report in full here, as well as a summary of the review process and methodology here.

Please email to continue sharing your great work with the CIMSEC community.


Sea Control 58 – ADM Parry’s Super Highway

seacontrol2We interview ADM Chris Parry (RN, Ret) on his new book, Super Highway: Sea Power in the 21st Century. We discuss his intentions in writing the book, the changing nature of technology & sea power, the impacts of an inevitably changing climate, and how to face the challenge of those pushing for new norms in contradiction to the freedom of the seas.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 58 -ADM Parry’s Super Highway

Considering leaving a comment and five-star rating on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, etc… Remember to subscribe and recommend us to your friends!

Note: Thanks to Sam LaGrone for the kickin’ new tunes.


Corps Existentialism: Ensuring a Future for the Marines

After more than a decade of overwhelming success in combat operations ashore, the United States Marine Corps is mounting a very public return to its sea faring roots—and the timing could not be worse.  The defense budget is shrinking by billions of dollars each fiscal year, impacting everything from amphibious ship maintenance / readiness / modernization and interoperability to Marine acquisitions and end strength.  In the midst of all this fiscal turmoil, the Department of the Navy (DoN) is further handicapped by an absence of Department level strategic communications coordination evidenced by the distant narratives being communicated from the Blue and Green sides on amphibious operations. With America’s largest Global War on Terror land campaigns wrapping up and with it a shrinking appetite to maintain two land armies, the lack of a coherent, unified justification for the future employment of Marines aboard Navy shipping existentially threatens the Marine Corps. Below are eight major items that the DoN must internally reconcile in this budget cycle to further guarantee future relevancy of the US Marine Corps:

1.       DOCTRINE: Reconsider the Marines new Capstone Document, Expeditionary Force 21 (EF-21).

“EF-21 will not change what Marines do, but how they do it[1].”  To this I would add “and when they will do it, and why they will do it.”  EF-21 represents a unilateral, fundamental paradigm shift in Joint Forcible Entry Operations (JFEO) doctrine that disconnects with existing concepts such as the Joint Operational Access Concept and the Army – Marine Corps Access Concept.  EF-21 asserts the Marine Corps’ preeminence in conceiving Amphibious Doctrine and announces dramatic changes in USN shipping standoff ranges during landing operations (an almost unfathomable 65 nautical miles) as well as a novel sequencing of operations—landing Marines prior to cyber, naval, or air preparation of the battle space in order to conduct USMC counter anti-access and counter area-denial operations.  The Marines have blazed a new doctrinal path, replete with unique assumptions on surface ship missile defense capabilities (underestimated) and surface connector capabilities (overestimated). With EF-21 they have created a schism that—left unreconciled —will call into question Naval / Joint doctrine and acquisitions to support amphibious entry operations.

2.       ORGANIZATION: Re-evaluate the ARG MEU and MAGTF

For well over a decade, the Amphibious Ready Group / Marine Expeditionary Units (ARG MEU) have been operating outside of their normal 3 ship formations. “Split Force Operations” and “Distributed Operations”[2] have been directed by Geographic Combatant Commanders, thereby breaking up the traditional ARG MEU formations in order to distribute the ships and personnel where operationally required.  While the ARG MEU has been historically conceived as an amphibious, expeditionary rapid reaction combined arms force capable of self-sustainment, the proliferation of lesser contingency operations has resulted in the placing of greater preeminence on the pieces parts vs. the whole.  This trend of separating not only ARG-MEUs but also and their Marine Corps combined arms Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTF) will likely only increase in the future (especially with game changing acquisitions like the 5th Generation F-35B Lightning II coming to the Fleet in FY-17).  The cross domain synergy envisioned in the JOAC—“…the complementary vs additive employment of capabilities which enhances the capabilities and compensates for the vulnerabilities of others”—will drive independent elements of the MAGTF further into the Joint arena, and may precede a paradigm shift fundamentally altering the current ARG MEU and MAGTFconstructs.  Getting in front of that bow wave will be essential to maintaining both the MAGTF’s integrity, its capability set and its Joint Force relevency in both fully integrated and split/disaggregated instantiations throughout the range of military operations.

3.       TRAINING: Refine the agility instead of preparing for Tarawa II

Exercise BOLD ALLIGATOR is as much about domestic and international strategic communications as it is a Marine Expeditionary Brigade level exercise.  The Navy – Marine Corps team has used the exercise to host many distinguished visitors (DVs) to demonstrate the capability of amphibious forces to conduct forcible entry operations even after a decade spent waging two land wars and a significant curtailment of practiced amphibious landings on both coasts.  MEB level landings haven’t been employed operationally since the Gulf War—and in that case it was a pump fake at Ash Shuaybah.  What the Navy-Marine Corps Team has done plenty of is split/disaggregated operations, and despite their prevalence over the last decade, there has not been enough concept refinement and exercises to perfect the planning, combat cargo loading, disaggregating and (most importantly) re-aggregating of the force in order to conduct larger scale operations.  Real emphasis on these modern deployment dynamics have to become a priority so that Navy-Marine Corps amphibious forces can maintain their relevance as a scalable, agile force capable of deploying to conduct both distributed, lesser contingency operations and focused, combined arms major combat operations.


4.       MATERIEL: Preserve the Assault Echelon by ensuring that the ACV does not become a “Ship to Objective Commuter[3]”

With the current Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) fleet nearing 50 years of age, the Marines are in desperate need of a replacement.  The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle—previously the heir apparent to the AAV—was cancelled in 2011 after $3 Billion was spent and $15 Billion more required.  The successor to the EFV, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), is reported to lack an amphibious capability (it will not swim unlike its predecessors) and will instead rely on US Navy surface connectors (Landing Craft Air Cushion [hoovercraft] and Landing Craft Utility [regular displacement craft]) to get ashore. As stated by LtCol Howard F. Hall in the Marine Corps Gazette, “… regardless of its land capabilities, the [non amphibious ACV] lack of personnel carrying capacity, reliance on connectors, and delayed transition from those connectors once ashore exacerbate operational risks.” Those risks include surrendering the assault echelon writ large: without amphibious capability, the connectors—which are very vulnerable to small arms, coastal artillery / mortars—would be stuck depositing ACVs instead of follow on logistics and supplies.  Once ashore, the ocean becomes a brick wall to Marines embarked in ACVs instead of maneuver space.  EF-21 envisions a 65 nautical mile standoff between Marines on the beach and Sailors on the amphibs.  If that distance is to be honored, an “amphibious combat vehicle” that lives up to its name must be fielded.

5.       LEADERSHIP: Challenge convention, support the Joint Force and the Corps will continue to thrive

The Marines are famous for their institutional paranoia on both Navy support and Army efforts to subsume them.  This paranoia, however, is detrimental to effecting needed change, and often causes a reflexive opposition to anything which threatens existing Marine Corps doctrine—seen as the Corps’ existential guarantor.  The Corps is not without their own innovators, however.  Earl “Pete” Hancock Ellis, as a Major in the Marines, conceived and developed the innovative Operations Plan 712—the basic strategy for the United States in the Pacific that led to the Corps’ modern day monopoly on Amphibious Assault (and in no small part its survival through the twentieth century). If not for Ellis’ own benefactor, General LeJeune, OPLAN 712 may never have received the vetting that drove it to become foundational to the Pacific Campaign.  This same kind of innovation and support, and not just doubling-down of core competencies in more difficult settings, must take place with Marine leadership going forward to ensure that the Corps is positioned strategically to act when the Joint Force requires.

6.       PERSONNEL: Bring back Marines assigned to Navy ships at the platoon level to augment Navy VBSS, security, small arms, ATFP capabilities

The Marines had an illustrious 223 year run on Navy capital ships, which ended in January 1998 as the defense department drew down its end strength as part of the Clinton era peace dividend.  Today, as the Corps is set to shrink once again post Afghanistan and Iraq, there is ironically a pressing need for Marines to return to Navy ships.  Anti-terrorism / Force Protection (ATFP) requirements—sentries, crew served weapons and quick reaction forces—have been on a steady rise since the 2000 USS Cole suicide bombing in Yemen.  These watch stations strain Navy crews and are manned by personnel whose primary responsibility is not the handling of small arms.  Likewise, Navy Visit Board, Search and Seizure teams—while more proficiently trained than their ATFP counterparts—are principally manned and trained for inspection and self-defense; they do not have an assault / counter-assault capability and therefore usually rely on heavily tasked special operations forces (SOF) to conduct opposed boardings.  Returning Marines to Navy ships will bring additional ATFP and VBSS capabilities to the Fleet while insulating the Marine Corps from additional manpower cuts.

7.       FACILITIES: Prepare special units to embark non-traditional shipping (and keep them light)

Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos testified in front of Congress on 01 October on his initiative to form a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SP MAGTF) in Kuwait to provide regional Quick Reaction Force (QRF) capability.  Retired Captain Jerry Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security endorsed the innovation in the Wall Street Journal.

“Looking at the Marines as a crisis response force is good in the sense the Corps knows it must develop an alternative mission and a new future.” [4]

However, Amos believes that his efforts are being hamstrung by the lack of amphibious shipping.

“In a perfect world we would rather have these teams sea-based, but we don’t have enough ships.”[5]

Not every contingency warrants a warship.  For lesser contingency operations—everything from embassy reinforcement, snatch-and-grabs to theater security cooperation—the Navy is looking towards employing ships from its “Moneyball Fleet”.  Joint High Speed Vessels, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, Dry Cargo Logistics Ships and Littoral Combat Ships are considerably cheaper to build and operate than their USS cousins, boast considerable cargo space, have sufficient flight deck / boat deck facilities while operating with a considerably smaller “signature.”  In order to ensure that these vessels do not become the exclusive domain of lighter / sexier Special Operations Forces (SOF), Marines must build tailored, scalable packages that can rapidly deploy, integrate, conduct operations and debark as cheaply and as expeditiously as possible.  Throwing down similar communications integration, berthing, and command and control requirements on non-traditional shipping as amphibious shipping is a surefire way to get priced out and left on the pier.

8.       POLICY: A greater role for the Secretary of the Navy in ensuring unity of effort / purpose within DoN DOTMLPF

At the end of the day, Title 10 authority to man, equip and train the members of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps is invested in the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus.  The department’s strategic vision must be clearly defined and communicated at the Secretariat level.  There is no room for competing narratives, especially in an era of ever shrinking fiscal resources and ever expanding operational requirements.  It must become the policy of the Department of the Navy that all Navy / Marine Corps Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities conform to the department’s strategic vision and serve in promoting its unity of purpose.  Anything less introduces risk and presents an existential threat to the Marine Corps.


Nicolas di Leonardo is a member of the Expeditionary Warfare Division on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and a student at the US Naval War College.  The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Expeditionary Warfare Division or the Naval War College.

[1] Amos, General James E. et al.  “EF-21,” Headquarters Marine Corps, 04 March 2015, p.5
[2] Disaggregated Operations are defined in EF-21 as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU to function separately and independently, regardless of time and distance, with elements under a command relationship that changes/limits the ARG/MEU commanders’ control of their forces.  Distributed Operations / Split Force Operations are defined as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU  to function separately for various durations and various distances with the ARG and MEU commanders retaining control of their forces under the Geographic Combatant Commander.”

[3] Hall, LtCol Howard F.  “Ship to Objective Commuters: The Continuing Search for Amphibious Vehicle Capability.”  The Marine Corps Gazette, August 2014
[4] Barnes, Julian E.  “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.”  The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.
[5] Barnes, Julian E.  “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.”  The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.


The Father of the Modern Chinese Navy—Liu Huaqing

This is the final piece in our Forgotten Naval Strategists series.

liu2Liu Huaqing is arguably one of China’s most famous naval officers. Often referred to as the “father of the modern Chinese Navy” and “China’s Mahan,” Liu served as commander of China’s Navy, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) from 1982 to 1987, a period which saw a sea change in China’s naval strategy as it moved away from coastal operations. However, Liu’s legacy is much more complex, given that he was actually more of a ground forces officer assigned to the navy, rather than a life-long naval officer. Rather than being the likely originator of China’s post 1980s naval strategy, he should be better remembered as one of China’s most ardent supporters of a stronger Chinese naval power.


According to Liu’s autobiography, he was born on 20 October 1916, in eastern Hubei Province, China. He was one of six children, having three brothers and two sisters. Liu joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1929, at the young age of 13. However, three years later he was kicked out of the CCP after being accused of being a “counterrevolutionary.” Liu was only allowed to rejoin the Party in 1935, during his participation in the Long March (1934-36).[1] Despite this early set back, Liu reached the highest ranks of the CCP, serving as a member of China’s elite ruling body, the Politburo Standing Committee, from 1992 to 1997. He died on 16 January 2011, at the age of 94.

In addition to rising through the ranks of the CCP, Liu was a successful military officer. He joined the communist military forces (not yet called the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA) in 1930, at the age of 14.[2] He subsequently fought against both the Chinese Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese military during World War II. Towards the end of his military career, in 1988, he was promoted to the rank of general, and ultimately served as vice chairman of the CCP’s supreme military body, the Central Military Commission (CMC), from 1992 to 1997.

Naval career

Despite his other accomplishments, Liu is best known as modern China’s most famous naval officer. However, despite ultimately becoming PLA Navy commander, Liu was not a typical naval officer. Instead, he’s probably better described as a PLA ground forces officer with naval characteristics, to borrow from a Chinese saying. The majority of Liu’s military career was actually in the army, the (still) dominant service of the PLA—that he is more accurately referred to as “general” rather than “admiral” bears further testament to this fact. Furthermore, Liu’s first encounter with the PLA Navy wasn’t until he was 36 years old (1952), when he was appointed deputy political commissar of the Dalian Naval Academy.[3]

Once part of the PLA Navy, however, Liu enjoyed a rapid rise through its ranks. In 1958, after completing almost four years of study at the Soviet Union’s Voroshilov Naval Academy (today’s N.G. Kuznetsov Naval Academy), Liu became deputy commander, and subsequently commander, of China’s Lushun Naval Base, near the port city of Dalian.[4] In August 1960, he became deputy commander of the newly established North Sea Fleet in Qingdao.[5] A year later, he was appointed director of China’s Seventh Research Academy (Warship Research Academy), a newly founded institute that focused on “research and development of ships, weapon systems, equipment, and assimilation of imported technologies.”[6]

Liu’s appointment to the Seventh Research Academy was an inflection point, and for the next almost two decades, Liu was heavily involved in the research and development of China’s defense industries, particularly its ship building industry. In August 1966, he became deputy director of the National Defense Science and Technology Committee, which he held until 1969.[7] Liu then returned to the PLA Navy to direct its shipbuilding industry, and in 1970 he became the deputy chief of staff of the navy, responsible for naval weapons and platform development. Finally, in 1982, Liu was appointed commander of the PLA Navy, a position he held until 1987.

China’s “Offshore Defense” naval strategy

One of Liu’s key accomplishments during his tenure as commander was to oversee a major shift in the PLA Navy’s strategy in the mid 1980s. Until this point, the PLA Navy followed what it called the “Coastal Defense” (jin’an fangyu) strategy, which reflected Beijing’s belief that the primary role of the PLA Navy was to support the ground forces to defend against a Soviet land invasion. According to the PLA’s official encyclopedia, China’s “Coastal Defense” strategy was premised upon three parallel tracks. First, conducting maritime guerrilla operations using small naval and naval aviation formations to attack and harass dispersed and isolated enemy forces. Second, conducting rapid naval sorties to attack the enemy’s sea lanes and coastal targets within China’s immediate periphery. Third, carrying out small coastal naval operations under cover of ground artillery and land-based aircraft.

In 1986, the PLA Navy formally shifted its strategy from “Coastal Defense” to “Offshore Defense” (jinhai fangyu).[8] Unlike its predecessor, this strategy called on the PLA Navy to conduct independent naval actions further out from China’s coasts, although not yet true blue water operations. According to Liu’s autobiography, the focus of the “Offshore Defense” strategy was to defend China’s maritime interests within China’s claimed maritime territories. Liu fully recognized that the PLA Navy was unable to meet the requirements of this strategy when first articulated. In order to rectify this, the PLA Navy needed to develop four capabilities:

  • The ability to seize limited sea control in certain areas for a certain period of time
  • The ability to effectively defend China’s sea lanes
  • The ability to fight outside of China’s claimed maritime areas
  • The ability to implement a credible nuclear deterrent.[9]

Reflecting these requirements, the “Offshore Defense” strategy has both a temporal and geographic component to it. As Bernard D. Cole notes, the PLA Navy’s capability to fulfill the requirements of the “Offshore Defense” strategy were to develop along three phases:

  • Phase 1: to be achieved by 2000, during which time the PLA Navy needed to be able to exert control over the maritime territory within the First Island China, namely the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea (see map)—a goal that Cole argues China has yet to fully achieve.
  • Phase 2: to be achieved by 2020, when the navy’s control was to extend out to the Second Island Chain.
  • Phase 3: to be achieved by 2050, by which time the PLA Navy was to evolve into a true global navy.[10]


The shift in the PLA’s naval strategy reflected an earlier adjustment in Beijing’s assessment of its international situation. In the late spring of 1985, China, then under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, reassessed its strategic outlook. According to this assessment, China was no longer under the imminent threat of war, envisioned as a major ground invasion by Soviet forces to the north. Instead, due to a relative parity between the Soviet Union and the United States, China could enjoy a relatively peaceful environment for the foreseeable future.[11] This allowed Beijing to take the PLA off a constant pre-war posture and focus more on modernizing and downsizing the military in light of the new requirements to be able to fight a smaller, more technical type of war (referred to as “local war” (jubu zhanzheng) in PLA parlance).

The PLA Navy’s increased focus on China’s maritime domain also followed Beijing’s gradual recognition of the importance of the sea starting in the 1970s. As this author has written elsewhere, in the 1970s, China “began to recognize the potential economic value of controlling the maritime areas”—a region it had more or less ignored until then.[12] In particular, Beijing eyed the potential for hydrocarbons and minerals in the seabed, which, if exploited, could be used to benefit China’s economic development. The growing importance of fisheries to China’s economy was also noted. As was the new-found importance of China’s sea lanes, upon which China’s fledgling export economy increasingly depended.

Despite being credited with developing the PLA Navy’s “Offshore Defense” strategy, it is unlikely that Liu was the actual originator of the strategy. His career path and previous military experiences are not commensurate with those of a typical naval strategist. However, that is not to say that Liu didn’t play an influential role in the strategy’s formation. On the contrary, his position as naval commander during this period provided him with the necessary influence to see the strategy adopted in the first place. Furthermore, as CMC vice chairman, Liu would have been in a position to ensure that the PLA Navy developed the capabilities it needed to carry out the “Offshore Defense” strategy. That Liu was allegedly personal friends with Deng Xiaoping probably also helped strengthen Liu’s policy influence.[13] In this way, rather than “China’s Mahan,” it might be more accurate to refer to Liu as “China’s Theodore Roosevelt,” at least as far as naval development is concerned.


So what can we derive from this quick review of Liu Huaqing’s influence on the PLA Navy? This article makes four points:

  • First, the importance of having the naval capability to defend a state’s maritime interests. As China’s maritime interests expanded, Liu (and his fellow naval travelers) recognized the need for a naval force capable of safeguarding those interests. This may appear to be a truism, but it is worth repeating.
  • Second, the importance of syncing naval strategy (and subsequent development and procurement requirements) with overall national objectives. The PLA Navy’s switch to the “Offshore Defense” strategy ensured that the naval component of the PLA would align closely with the PLA’s newly established requirements for war fighting. Failure to ensure that the naval and other military services coordinate their respective strategies will only reduce efficiency and waste resources.
  • Third, the importance of developing naval capabilities based upon a strategy, and not vice versa. When the PLA Navy under Liu adopted the “Offshore Defense” strategy, it was fully understood that the navy was incapable of carrying out the new strategy—something China subsequently set about to change. At the end of the day, strategy is still the combination of ends, ways, and means—with ends holding pride of place.
  • Fourth, the importance of an influential lobbying force on behalf of a strong naval capability. The improved capabilities of the PLA Navy over the past two decades are arguably in part the direct result of Liu’s strong influence—especially in the 1990s when he was CMC vice chairman. Without his direct support for China’s naval development, it is unlikely that the PLA Navy would be where it is today.

Daniel Hartnett is a research scientist with The CNA Corporation, where he researches China’s military and security affairs. The views expressed here are his own. He can be followed at @dmhartnett.

[1] Liu Huaqing, Liu Huaqing Huiyilu [Memoirs of Liu Huaqing], (Beijing: PLA Publishing House, 2004), pp. 1-6.

[2] Liu, p. 7.

[3] Liu, p. 253.

[4] Liu, pp. 265-274.

[5] Liu, p. 282.

[6] Sandeep Dewan, China’s Maritime Ambitions and the PLA Navy (New Delhi, India: Vij Books, 2013), p. 18.

[7] Liu, p. 307.

[8] Some Westerners have translated this term as “near seas defense.” This article sticks with conventional usage, however.

[9] Liu, p. 438.

[10] Bernard D. Cole, The Great Wall at Sea: China’s Navy in the Twenty-First Century, 2nd edition, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010), p. 176.

[11] Yao Yunzhu, “The Evolution of Military Doctrine of the Chinese PLA from 1985 to 1995,” The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 7:2 (1995): 57-62.

[12] Daniel M. Hartnett, “China’s Evolving Interests and Activities in the East China Sea,” in Michael A. McDevitt et al., The Long Littoral Project: East China and Yellow Seas—A Maritime Perspective on Indo-Pacific Security (Alexandria, VA: CNA, September 2012), pp. 83-86,

[13] Edward Wong, “Liu Huaqing Dies at 94; Oversaw Modernization of China’s Navy,” New York Times, 16 January 2011.